Meet the Nepali women leading the way in solid waste management

These three women-led waste-management organizations work toward sustainable recycling practices to make the city cleaner.

Photo: Pixabay

Rojina Rai

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: All of us in Kathmandu are familiar with garbage being strewn across the streets. We are accustomed to clogging up the drains. We often tend to ignore the problem. We do not even think that we are also part of the problem when it comes to the issue of waste mismanagement.

According to a report from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), organic waste, which is biodegradable, accounts for a higher share compared to inorganic and other wastes. The organic waste composition was highest (54.0%) in fiscal year 2075/76 (2018/19), compared to the inorganic (33.3%) and other wastes (12.7%). The report indicates more than 70% of waste can be recycled.

Highlighting the urgency of sustainable waste management in the future, the report states, “It is expected that waste generation is likely to increase in the years to come and Nepal might face a substantial challenge in managing these wastes with the existing waste management mechanism.”

Nepal Live Today recently talked with three waste-management organizations—Clean Up Nepal, Hatti Hatti, and Upcycle—that are run by women and are changing things from the ground up, for the better living of all of us.

It should be noted that empowering women as sustainable business owners creates a chain of positive impacts by building their financial independence and strengthening their capacity to contribute to their communities and the environment.

“Nepal lacks insights into policies of waste management, even as waste management has become a huge unsolved agenda for a long time,” says Karuna Thapa, senior officer at Clean up Nepal, which is an NGO working towards solid waste management and hygiene system.

“In addition, the government is expected to address the worst waste scenario. And we stand as an alternative partner to create awareness about waste management from the community level,” Thapa adds.

Pushpa Sthapit, founder of Upcycle Nepal- Revive, shares her story of how she landed in textile waste management.

“I was not fitting into my old jeans, and I thought it’d be better to revive it rather than throwing it away,” she says. “I made a beautiful bag out of that. Later the same bag won the first position for the project in my college, which led this venture to happen.

Sthapit’s mother handed down sewing knowledge to her and she started recycling old clothes into laptop covers, slim bags, and makeup organizer bags. Sthapit probably never expected that recycling old clothes would make her the winner of the third national social business challenge award with a cash purse of one million. Sthapit invested that one million of cash with a vision of recycling and up-cycling 10% of fabric and clothing waste into utility products. And her company ensures that 10% of discarded apparel will not reach the pile of waste that will further litter the landfills.

While Sthapit had a very personal story on how she got into waste management, Sajana Jirel, had a larger goal in mind before she led the company. “I always had a dream to contribute to society and empower other women in socio-economic aspects,” says Jirel, executive director of Hatti Hatti. “And for the long-term solution of waste management, generating income and giving new life to old stuff before it goes to landfills.”

While Sthapit had a very personal story on how she got into waste management, Sajana Jirel of Hatti Hatti had a larger goal in mind before she founded her company. “I always had a dream to contribute to society and empower other women in socio-economic aspects,” says Jirel

Although it was hard at the beginning, she carved a headway for herself. In Nepal, the amount of post-consumer textile waste is sizable, most of that coming from the city area. Because of the short life cycle of apparel products due to rapid fashion cycles and increased buying power of an individual, the urban area is producing a significant amount of post-consumer textile waste. “We have been talking about paper, plastic, and utensil waste but not about textile waste,” Jirel says. “Therefore, we are working towards creating a society that is aware of textile waste in the coming fifteen years.”

Jirel believes that women are the front liners to advocate this matter practically. By providing tailoring skills to single women since 2014, Jirel now looks forward to empowering more needy women in the future with the upcycling business. Currently, they are officially working with eight women and seeking to further expand the project. Since the pandemic struck, daily waged women have been one of the most affected groups.

Hatti Hatti has been working to help these women find other ways to generate income rather than depending upon daily-based work and payment, according to Jirel. They have arranged three months of free tailoring courses for these women, collaborating with the NGO Hiteri Foundation.

Helmed by women, all of these three waste management companies are united in their mission to create a sustainable city without litter. These companies seem to advocate the idea that women can bring change—from waste management to environmental justice. And they are leading by example. In business, they have gone through several highs and lows. But in objective, they all share a similar trajectory—a sustainable one.